I know, I’m set to be banished to eternal personal finance damnation for admitting this (after surviving that “rapture”), but we’re putting in a swimming pool! While I’m fully aware that pools don’t make for a good “investment”, this is a lifestyle choice we made after careful consideration. When we had saved for years with a move in mind and determined that we’d be staying in our more modest home for the long-term, the conversation turned to home improvements and the pool idea. Given our strong head start on retirement savings and 529 accounts for the kids’ college, and our financial situations as a whole, we felt justified in pursuing a pool. If we were to move within a few years, then it wold be a terrible gift to our future buyers. But our situation has us here for good, we have 3 kids under 7,and it’s the only pool in the development, so we’re sure our kids and their friends will get a ton of use out of it in the coming years.
Pool Contractor Search
We talked to over a dozen people in the area that had their own pools installed. We asked for referrals, experiences, complaints and advice. We also took to the internet to search for complaints by company, general pricing, and things to watch out for. The conclusion that we came to was that some of the larger national companies didn’t have the best reputations both locally and on the web. Evidently, once they had you locked in with a down payment, the outcome was often somewhat a roll of the dice. The smaller, local companies seemed to have a better reputation, but were a bit more expensive. With smaller contractors, you do have to worry about whether they’re going to be around in a few years if something goes wrong with your pool. So, we honed our search down to a top 2 and got a quote from a larger national outfit just for negotiating leverage. After some sales pitches and pre-negotiations, we selected a mid-sized local company and went down the road of finalizing specs, negotiating and kicking off the project. Along the way, I found some valuable learnings about problems other people experienced, and even some lessons learned from our contractor, which I’m still confident is the best of the options we considered.
Here’s What Your Pool Contractor WON’T Tell You In Advance
1. Timeline? What Timeline? Ha Ha Ha – Our pool is probably about 1-2 weeks behind the timeline initially highlighted when we started negotiating. That’s not terrible and I had actually set my expectations low based on everything I’ve read and heard about pool installations. While it’s true that the pool contractor doesn’t get paid the full amount until the pool’s complete, they do collect milestone payments along the way. So, they’re not always desperate to finish your pool, and they often overbook their resources just to lock in that revenue for the spring. I’ve heard of many cases where pools are several weeks or even months behind schedule with no real recourse for the homeowner. Chances are, whatever date your contractor gives you, they’ll be late. If it’s in the spring, they can always just blame it on the rain (like this is the first time it rained this much in the spring?).
2. Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You – Once you’re locked in with a down payment and a contract, that pool project is moving ahead one way or the other. So, I’ve read and heard about many circumstances where you quickly drop to the back of the line once you’re locked. When nobody shows up on site and you call? No reply. The receptionist at the desk says they’ll get back to you. Try to ask around for referrals about the responsiveness and accessibility of your pool contractor, engineer, owner or whoever the primary interface should be.
3. Problem? Looks Good To Me! Many pool complaints reside in the workmanship or problems that only manifest themselves after the job is done. While you may have a warranty on the pool for equipment and workmanship, sometimes, small disputes aren’t worth handling in court or are somewhat subjective. This is where a strong reputation and seeing some actual pools the company installed is helpful. It’s better than flying blind!
4. We Hit Rock! This is most common thing I heard from EVERYONE. At least where we live, there’s a fair amount of rock just under the top soil, so what many companies do is quote you based on 1 day of digging, and then they always end up “hitting rock” and have to bill you at like $2500 per day while they keep digging. Once that hole’s in the ground, there’s no going back right? So you’re at the mercy of the crew with the heavy equipment. We made sure to build in a “cap” which we didn’t hit anyway. But if they did hit significant rock, our outlay was capped in the contract.
5. We’re Going to Need More (Fill in the Blank!) – One tactic seems to be to bid a bit low to get the job and then once the job’s underway, to extract more money from the customer. This can be done through various means. One common tactic I’ve heard of is when they’re doing the decking (concrete or whatever), they claim they need “more stone” and you have to pay for it. On one hand, I’d want to push back and say I’m only paying based on the square footage quoted for surfacing, but evidently, people end up getting stuck with that one all the time. Other “more” tactics include more gunnite, special “bracing bars” or reinforcing materials or other ancillary materials like retaining walls and the like.
6. Now, the Fun Begins – the “Extras” – You can’t blame the contractor for you not thinking of this stuff, but they certainly don’t volunteer that your $40K pool is going to end up costing you $60K or whatever, when you start adding lighting, landscaping, adding more concrete once it’s flagged out and you realize how small 3″ around the pool is, and all the other stuff that comes up once you’ve already “committed”. Unfortunately, many of these decisions need to be made at the time of installation, since you don’t want to be adding electric to trying to attach a concrete section to your existing decking later. Oh, and don’t forget that fence! Another couple grand. We had done a pretty good job of projecting the costs of our various “extras”, but we’re still over nonetheless.
7. You Can’t Heat it for a Month (and other minor details) – This one isn’t a deal-breaker and wouldn’t have deterred us from getting a swimming pool, but I just found it kind of annoying that we only found this out by accident. We have a heated pool since we have a spa attached and we live in the northeast. This weekend, we went into the showroom to pick out our tile and coping and the owner suggested we stop by a local pool he just finished up since that family selected a combination we were considering. He thought it would be helpful for us to see it in a real pool, which was a nice suggestion. The homeowner obliged and was actually quite chatty about the new pool. She seemed very happy with the installation and workmanship. My wife happened to ask if it was heated since it’s still not summer yet and her kids had already been in there. The woman asked the pool contractor , “No, we can’t heat it for a month, right?” He said that was right, we had to wait several weeks before heating up the pool, and especially the spa or else it might pop a tile. I’d never heard of this before, but what I did just hear is that even with a delivery in early June, we can’t use the spa until at least mid-July and we’re going to have cold water through most of June. We had actually considered having a party shortly after it was complete and now we’re glad we didn’t schedule it. As we’ve gone through this process, minor details pop out that weren’t in the brochures or mentioned during initial discussions. I’m wondering what else we’re going to find out!
These are just a few of the common complaints about pool installations and we’re dealing with some of these ourselves.
Do You Have Any Pool Experiences to Share?